How to Organize a Hackathon

by | Business Tips

How to Organize a Hackathon
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A hackathon is an event, often hosted by a tech company, where programmers and technology professionals form teams to collaborate on a project “sprint.” These teams are able to invent new solutions to recurring problems. This week’s blog post will explore how to organize a hackathon and how it can benefit a brand.

What is the purpose of a hackathon?

Hackathons provide a collaborative space for innovative minds to combine creativity with technology. According to Dave Fontenot, editor of Hackathons Anonymous, hackathons create an environment for problem solvers to build a website, mobile app, or hardware hack with the goal of starting from scratch and ending with a prototype. These events typically last between 24 to 48 hours.

Internal vs. external hackathons

An internal hackathon, also known as a corporate hackathon, is conducted by a specific brand for its employees. This allows an organization to promote collaboration and engagement among different departments while crowdsourcing ideas. Internal hackathons also allow employees from non-technical backgrounds to provide their perspective which can lead to innovative problem solving. Hackathons happen to be one of Facebook’s oldest traditions– in fact, the “Like” button was the result of a company hackathon!

External hackathons, on the other hand, are exactly that – open to the public and often hosted by consortia, non-profits, or alongside conferences or conventions. They can be great opportunities to gain experience, network, learn from more senior participants, or gain exposure to new fields or applications.

Why would you want to run a hackathon?

In addition to solving the problems, hackathons create several benefits for brands, including team building and recruitment opportunities. Below are a few reasons to run a hackathon.

Technology Innovation – Hackathons provide a cost-effective way to explore new ideas and take risks, fast. By inviting diverse perspectives and setting a strict time limit, these events generate a productive and creative atmosphere. Participants translate their lofty visions into innovative solutions.

Community Building – Every industry in our modern world is impacted by technology. This makes it increasingly important to create space for entrepreneurs, tech experts, and industry leaders to network, collaborate and solve problems together with a focus on technology. Plus, it’s a great way to boost motivation for current employees.

Brand Recognition – Hosting a hackathon can increase brand awareness in the tech community. It can also improve brand perception and generate positive press about your business.

Developer Engagement – Hackathons establish communication channels between developers and tech users. This provides a feedback loop that makes solutions all the more valuable.  

Recruitment Opportunity – It can be difficult to find the right developers and data scientists for your team. Hackathons allow brands to witness teams in action and build a positive reputation with tech experts.

What do you need for a hackathon?

The first step to running a successful hackathon is to attend a few of them and understand how they operate. Here are a few key considerations to help brands run successful hackathons:

Theme – What problem does the brand want to solve? A few themes might include education, non-profits, health, transportation, energy, robotics, and many more. Here are some suggestions for hackathon themes.

Time – Preparing a hackathon can take two to six weeks. How many people will be in attendance, what activities will be included, and what’s the scale of the event? No matter how much time you estimate, be sure to add additional time for unexpected delays or trouble shooting.

Sponsors – Events are expensive. Consider securing sponsors who can help pay for the event. Tiered sponsorship can help to attract a variety of supporters at different price points.

Venue – Choose a space that is accessible and has plenty of space for attendees to work. If attendees are working long hours, it’s important that the space is comfortable. The venue should include a large space for the kickoff and closing of the event, as well as break out rooms for teams to work. Consider where your attendees are located and how to manage parking.

Expansive might be a great venue for your next hackathon! Learn more about planning an event in a coworking space here.

Website – How will attendees sign up for the event? It’s important to have an accessible landing page to display information and provide a place to register. Be sure to promote the website on social media and create a Facebook event page.

Participants – First, reach out to the company’s network. If the brand is interested in hosting a hackathon, it’s likely that they already have people in their community who would be interested in attending. Next, reach out to tech influencers and media professionals who write about the tech industry. Social media pages and groups can be especially useful for finding participants.

Equipment – Create a list of items that the venue may not provide. Some examples might include tables, chairs, power strips, cables, monitors, etc.

Food and Drink – Attendees will be working hard for long hours. It’s important to provide food options with dietary restrictions taken into consideration, as well as caffeine and snacks!

Judges – Decide who will determine the winner(s). Try to choose known industry leaders, sponsors, and organizers when possible. Be sure to determine the judging criteria ahead of time and provide clarity to attendees.

Prizes – What unique offerings can the brand provide? Try to offer unique prizes that show gratitude to the participants for their hard work.

Organizing a hackathon presents a great opportunity to network with other tech professionals and creative problem solvers. Looking for more opportunities to network with like-minded people in a collaborative work environment? Visit and book a tour today!

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